By Samantha Brandbergh
Growing up, Rachel Brashier was surrounded by music, singing in her school choir and local church.
“I have always been a singer, but I grew up in a very small, rural community, so I didn’t get the chance to learn how to read music until I went to college,” she said.
Brashier was also able to pick up piano and guitar by ear with the help of her neighbors, and sing the National Anthem for community events.
With music being an ever-present aspect of her life in Illinois, Brashier wanted to use her talents to make a difference.
“I taught music at the K-12 level for 12 years full time in the Chicago metropolitan area, and loved every minute of it,” she said.
Brashier received a doctorate degree in music education, a master’s in ethnomusicology and a certificate in Collegiate Music Teaching from the Eastman School of Music, and a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance and music education with certification from Eastern Illinois University.
After mentoring student teachers and seeing music education in the classroom change, Brashier took the initiative to begin teaching music in the future. It was then that Brashier decided to return to graduate school at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
“All these schools were incredible,” she said. “[At Eastern Illinois], I received a very solid and well-rounded music education with a lot of performance and teaching opportunities.”
While getting her master’s degree, Brashier continued to teach music and focused her research on music teaching and learning, including the “teaching of gender through Christian chants about women from the Eastern churches.”
Over the past few years, Brashier has pursued a Ph.D. in music education and hopes to finish her dissertation on emerging teaching identities of student teachers in music education classrooms.
“I have also recently published a study on the way the people with learning differences teach and learn music in communities,” she said. “I hope to publish a recent ethnographic study about how the collegiate voice studio functions as a music learning community.”
What prompted Brashier to make the move to New Jersey, she said, was Westminster’s “fine reputation and acclaimed faculty.”
“The students here are so motivated to learn and be the best music teachers they can be, and the faculty here are driven to help everyone learn and improve,” she said. “I love that at this school, no one is a number, and no one can get lost in the crowd.”
Junior music education major Rebecca Carroll, who is currently in Brashier’s Critical Pedagogy Level Three course, which deals with critical theory, constructive teaching and socio-transformative teaching, praised Brashier’s involved teaching style.
“[Brashier] took long enough to understand what types of backgrounds we came from, musically and education-wise,” she said. “She’s very quick to match something that she’s doing to something that each of us have experienced in the past.”
Because of Brashier’s broad knowledge of music and music education, she is able to bring an “outside perspective that we wouldn’t have approached because we’re not exposed to [it] frequently,” according to Carroll.
For Brashier, Westminster’s small community allows not only the students to succeed, but the professors as well.
“I became a teacher to teach people first and foremost, and the small student-to-professor ratio here really lets me teach people as individuals, and take the time to learn from them, too,” she said.
Originally printed in the 10/26/16 edition.